The name of the colors

I recently created the library xkcdcolornamer.js, which allows you to get the name of any RGB color. You can see an example of its use by clicking on the color below to modify it and see its name.

It seems that humans are not very good at naming colors. This is not an easy task, as it involves assigning discrete categories to a continuous spectrum, and intermediate tones can vary according to our perception.

The controversial dress and a couple of quantified versions

In the image above, you can see the dress that became so famous because no one could agree whether it was white-gold or black-blue. To the left is the original version, and in the middle is a version of the image using only the 256 web colors standardized by SVG 1.0.

For the right version, I took each pixel of the dress photo and replaced them with the closest color out of the 256 most used in English. The top ten are: green, blue, purple, pink, brown, red, light blue, turquoise, grey, and orange.

This list does not include colors like white or yellow. This is because I generated it using the xkcd color survey, in which 222,500 users named randomly chosen colors. As can be observed, it's not the best palette for compressing an image.

While this method has some statistical issues (the color range of each screen varies, men are overrepresented, and the average of a set of colors is not usually the most representative color), it gives a good idea of our limited ability in naming colors.

Color spectrum using only the top 50 most common names

The 50 most named colors.

One reason might be genetic influence. Beyond colorblindness and similar alterations, not everyone perceives colors in exactly the same way; in fact, we don't even see colors exactly the same with our left and right eyes.

Another important factor is cultural influence: our language greatly affects how we understand color. It's surprising that in the Iliad, Homer described the sea as having the color of wine, and he made no mention of the colors blue and orange in his poems.

In general, language limits—or expands—our view of the world. For example, the Australian Thaayorre tribe has no relative direction terms such as left and right, and speak just in absolute coordinates like north and south. This in turn made them have a great orientation.

All these factors make our way of seeing colors not too apropriate to represent images with the smallest palettes possible, but it still the way we speak. Which is why it was strange taht there's nothing else available to name colors using our peculiar palette.

By the way, that dress is gray and no one is gonna convince me otherwise.


Alejandro Reply
Negro y azul!! jajajjaja
jcruzado Reply
HE probado con tu biblioteca y el vestido es marrón, gris, celeste y rosa. Asunto zanjado.

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